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Back to Reviews 96

Melanie Smith
Victor, 1996
Galleria OMR 

Patricia Landen
Rhonda, 1995
Galeríia Nina Menocal. 

Nadin Ospina
Archaic Critic, 1993, 
Galería Nina Menocal. 

Nadin Ospina
Archaic Critic, 1993, 
 Galería Nina Menocal. 

Untitled, 1996. 
Art Deposit. 

mexico city 

by Rubén Gallo

Despite the severe crisis that the Mexican 

economy has been suffering since December 

1994, the Mexico City art scene seems as 

alive as ever, thriving with commercial 

galleries and independent, artist-run 

spaces. This is quite a new trend, since in 

the past art in Mexico has been heavily 

dependent on government-run exhibition 

spaces. We need only remember that in the 

1930s and 1940s, most of the works created 

by the famous muralists--Diego Rivera, José 

Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros-

-were commissioned by the Mexican 

government to "decorate" city or federal 

buildings. Today, the government still runs 

a great number of museums and galleries, 

but the most interesting artists tend to 

show in private or alternative spaces.

The first serious art galleries in Mexico 

City opened in the 1980s, in Colonia Roma, 

an old aristocratic neighborhood, full of 

turn-of-the century French-style mansions. 

For many years, this neighborhood had been 

neglected and many of its houses had fallen 

into disrepair--some were even torn down to 

build office buildings or department 

stores. This pitiful decay lasted until the 

late `80s, when a number of galleries, 

bookstores and cafés began to move back 

into Colonia Roma, transforming the old 

neighborhood into Mexico City's art 


One of the first galleries to open in this 

neighborhood was Galería OMR, housed in a 

typical Colonia Roma house, with a turn-of-

the-century stone façade and vast 

exhibition rooms. Directed by Patricia 

Ortéz Monasterio and Jaime Riestra (thus 

the name, OMR), this gallery is among the 

most active in Mexico, and has a strong 

presence in international art fairs and art 

magazines. Although in the past OMR has 

promoted some trite neo-Mexicanist 

(obsessed with essentialist notions of 

Mexican culture and identity) artists, 

lately they have been showing more exciting 

work. On view during June and July was an 

exhibition by British-born Melanie Smith, 

who has been living and working in Mexico 

since the late `80s, doing extensive work 

based on the color orange. For this show, 

which consisted exclusively of paintings on 

canvas (all orange, of course), Smith 

combined her expertise on this bright color 

with a comical appropriation of famous 

painting styles. Each painting in the show 

was titled with a Spanish name, and 

presented an orange, parodic version of a 

typical work by famous foreign painter with 

that name. Thus the orange dots in Victor 

mock the optical effects of Victor Vasarely 

op-art paintings; in Claudio, Claude 

Monet's waterlilies are turned into an 

aqueous, orange abstraction; and in Pedro, 

Mondrian's simple and minimal use of color 

is perverted by Smith's "orange lush" grid.

A short walk from OMR, Galería Nina Menocal 

is directed by the enthusiastic, Cuban-born 

Nina Menocal. In 1989, Menocal radically 

influenced the art scene in Mexico by 

opening a modest gallery in an apartment, 

where she exhibited works by young Cuban 

artists from the so-called "generation of 

the `80s." Between 1989 and 1993, Ninart--

as her gallery was called back then--

organized some of the most exciting 

exhibitions in the city, with Cuban artists 

like José Bedia, Arturo Cuenca, Glexis 

Novoa, Consuelo Castañeda and Quisqueya 

Henríquez--artists who Nina Menocal helped 

to move to Mexico. The great majority of 

these Cuban artists have since moved to the 

United States, and Galería Nina Menocal is 

now working with mostly Mexican and 

Argentinean artists, like Boris Viskin and 

Patricia Landen, respectively. 

Another space in Colonia Roma is Galería 

Arte Contemporãneo, located in Flora, a 

quiet, tree-lined street. Directed by 

Benjamín Diaz, this gallery first opened in 

the 1980s, and during its first years it 

had several successful shows with 

international artists like Meyer Vaisman 

and Kcho. The gallery closed down for a few 

years--allegedly due to financial troubles 

and mismanagement--and reopened only last 

September. On view until the end of August 

was a show of recent work by Nadin Ospina--

the Colombian artist famous for producing 

what looks like a pre-Columbian stone 

statue of Bart Simpson. The show includes 

several Bart Simpson sculptures in all 

sizes, as well as effigies of Mickey Mouse 

and other pop figures. Unfortunately 

Ospina's work provokes a few laughs but 

appears very limited and devoid of ideas 

once we get past the joke.

In contrast to the galleries, which are all 

clustered together in the same area, Mexico 

City's independent spaces are scattered all 

over town. In the historic downtown 

district, Art & Idea occupies the first 

floor of a colonial building with a red 

tezontle stone façade. Art & Idea just 

opened in July 1996, and promises to be one 

of Mexico City's most interesting not-for-

profit spaces. Directed by Robert 

Punkenhofer, an Austrian now resident in 

Mexico, this immaculate gallery is devoted 

to the exhibition of installation art and 

other non-commercial genres. Art & Idea 

opened with Video Faze--an exhibition of 

ten "video self-portraits" that included 

pieces by Takahiko Iimura from Japan, 

Cheryl Donegan from the U.S. and Rainer 

Ganahl from Austria. Forthcoming events 

include an exhibition on the theme of 

nomadism curated by Jade Dellinger, and a 

solo show by Mexican photographer and video 

artist Silvia Gruner. 

La Panadería is an art center run by an 

artist collective headed by Mexican artists 

Miguel Calderón and Yoshua Okón. Housed in 

what used to be a bakery in Colonia 

Condesa--Mexico City's old Jewish 

neighborhood--this space has been open for 

slightly over a year, and is the recipient 

of one of the prestigious and munificent 

"U.S.-Mexico Fund for Culture" grants. La 

Panadería started with an extremely 

ambitious project, which included opening 

an exhibition space and a café in the 

building, as well as publishing a magazine 

and organizing lectures and courses. 

Unfortunately, out of all these plans, only 

the exhibition space has been carried 

through, and not in the most professional 

manner. Openings and other events at La 

Panadería are usually attended by a grungy 

"teeny-bopper" crowd, and the production 

quality of most of the work exhibited there 

leaves much to be desired. During my last 

visit in August, there was nothing on view.

Art Deposit, also in Colonia Roma, is 

another artist-run space that has been open 

for only a few months. Headed by Stefan 

Bruggeman, a 20-year-old Mexican artist, 

this space is housed in a turn-of-the 

century house which has been preserved in 

impeccable condition. So far, Bruggeman and 

his partners have organized haphazard 

exhibitions of works created by fellow-

students. Neither the works nor their 

production values are always top-notch, but 

the efforts of these young artists are 

worthy of recognition, especially since--

unlike La Panadería's dependence on a juicy 

grant--they must struggle to make ends meet 

though ticket sales and fundraising.

In closing, these six exhibition spaces--

which range from grungy buildings to the 

perfect "white cube"--reflect the diversity 

of art practices in Mexico City. I feel 

especially optimistic about the existence 

of artist-run spaces, which are quite new 

to Mexico, a country that has been 

historically over-dependent on government 

sponsorship for the arts. And though these 

new spaces might be unorganized and 

chaotic--like La Panadería--at least they 

mark the beginning of a new approach to 

creating and exhibiting art in Mexico.

Addresses of galleries mentioned above:

Galeria Nina Menocal
Zacatecas 93
Colonia Roma
Mexico DF 06700
Tel (5) 564 7443
Fax (5) 574 7486

Galeria OMR
Plaza Rio de Janeiro 54
Colonia Roma
Mexico DF 05700
Tel (5) 525 3095
511 1179
Fax (5) 523 4244

Galeria Arte Contemporaneo
Flora 9
Colonia Roma
Mexico DF 06700
Tel (5) 514 6782
Fax (5) 514 6456

La Panaderia
Amsterdam at Ozuluama
Colonia Condesa
Mexico DF
Tel (5) 286 7777

Art & Idea
Isabel la Catolica 5, 1er piso
Centro Historico
Mexcio DF 06000
Tel (5) 510 1859
Fax (5) 251 7067

Art Deposit
Tabasco 3030
Colonia Roma
Mexico DF 06700
Tel (5) 264 1034

Rubén Gallo is a critic and curator.

He currently divides his time between

New York and Mexico City.